From the editor:
The academician has been taken in by charlatans selling phony artifacts more times than he’d like to remember. But today, when he glances into the dusty mirror, a stranger peers back at him.CB Droege is an author and voice actor from the Queen City living in the Millionendorf. He produces a weekly podcast reading other people’s stories, Manawaker Studio's Flash Fiction Podcast, and his short fiction has appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and more.
From the author: An academician has a engaging conversation with a man from another world.
The academician stared at the mirror in non-comprehension. There was no one in the building with him today... What had he just seen?
Okay, back-up, be a scientist, recreate the events:
He had been looking for his heavy-duty scales, and had shifted the polished replica of the Aegis over across from the fake "Mirror of Souls" that the filthy merchant in Athens had sworn would let him talk to the dead. Then, when he glanced the reflection of the large mirror in the surface of the polished silver, he had seen someone clearly walk past the door to the room.
He picked up the Aegis from the floor where he had accidentally knocked it when he was startled, and placed it back on the small stand. He positioned himself to see the door by way of both reflections. There. A person in the doorway. He looked to the doorway, having to peer around the bulk of the silver shield: No one there. He looked back at the reflection: The man was back.
"Hello?" the academician called out shakily, waving one hand. The other man, dark of hair and skin, and dressed in the robes of a scholar or philosopher looked as confused as the academician felt. The man entered the door, and knelt on the floor before whatever it was he was looking into on his side.
His side of what?
For a long few minutes, both of them only stared.
When they tried to communicate again, it became clear that sound couldn't reach through whatever this was. The academician tried writing messages to the strange man, but it was obvious he could not read Italian, and the messages he held up on his own side were gibberish. He tried French, Russian, and Latin, while the man in the mirror tried several of his own languages, but it seemed they had no tongue in common. Finally, the man spent several minutes composing a message from what the academician could clearly see was a book of translations, when he held up the carefully crafted note, the academician recognized the angular shapes and lines, though he could not read it. It was Sumerian, a language that almost no one even knew about, but which he had recently come into possession of a very rare book of translations for. He got down his own book, and began translating the short note: "Probably unlikely that you can read this." it said. The academician laughed, and began composing his own labor-intensive note.
Communication was extremely slow, but both men were patient. First, they established their disciplines with one another - The man on the other side was an alchemist, studying the properties of polished glass coated with various substances. Second, they shared the names of their homes. This was tougher, as the phonetics of Sumerian was unclear to both of them. The other man was from somewhere called Oyon, very far from the alchemist's home in Rome, he was sure. The alchemist confirmed he had never heard of Rome, which proved he was on another world entirely, and so they began to trade names of major cities. The alchemist had never heard of London, Washington, Kyoto, Alexandria, Paris... and at each trade he gave a city name which sounded utterly made-up, Zabtran Rapp, Patagyta, Stagmere - they were all as fanciful as these.
The slow dialog took the two men to many topics. They found they had much to learn from one another, but were unable to stick to one topic for long. They wrote back and forth of science, politics, geography (the alchemist drew a map of the Mediterranean which was almost perfect except for the locations of the cities), and even the weather.
Finally, as the long night was breaking into morning, curiosity took the academician in a new direction and he wrote, "What gods do you follow?"
The alchemist seemed confused, and took a long time trying to decipher the message, finally he wrote back, "What is a god?" and at that moment, the academician knew this other world would never be the same after this meeting.
Also: The mirror may not have let him speak with the dead, but he should track down the merchant in Athens, and apologize for the nasty letters.
This story originally appeared in Fantasia Divinity.